hiking with kids

Wave Cave, AZ + 10 Tips for Hiking with Kids

When is the best time to hike in Arizona?

Just because we’re in the city of Phoenix, AZ doesn’t mean we give up our adventure days!

January and February are breathtaking times to see the lush Arizona desert and there are many phenomenal trails in the metro area. We explored the Wave Cave in Gold Canyon, AZ and 10/10 would do it again! No passes or permits are required for this hike.

You will access the trailhead from a dirt road. It is well maintained and accessible with any passenger vehicle. The main trailhead parking lot was full when we arrived. Don’t despair as the road continues and there are several places where you can park and walk back up the road to the trailhead.

This was a challenging hike. Although I had read a few reviews, we didn’t anticipate the steep incline near the end. Lunch from the cave was 100% worth it and an incredible reward for the climb. We hiked with family including our granddaughters (8 & 5). We kept moving because if the grand-girls could do it, we could do it and so can you!

The total length of this trail is 3.0 miles. With an elevation gain of 869 ft., this out and back hike including lunch took us about 4 hours to complete. Our 5 year old granddaughter did the entire hike in a bright yellow sundress and slick shoes!

As a family of 9, we’ve learned a few things about hiking with children! We’re happy to share them with you and hope you won’t be offended by a few links to our favorite tools in some of the descriptions.

Hiking with children can be a challenge and also massively rewarding. Here are our 10 TIMELY TIPS for HIKING SUCCESS with CHILDREN at the Wave Cave in Gold Canyon, AZ (or anywhere else)!

#1 – Any exploring is better than no exploring! It can be a lot of work to plan a safe adventure for your children. The mishaps and forgotten items, and last-minute creative solutions are part of the journey. Prepare as best as you can, and then just go. See how far you can get. Don’t be afraid to turn around if your children’s behavior is more treacherous than the terrain. Regroup and try again another day!

#2 –  Start with easy trails: Choose easy, family-friendly trails that are appropriate for your children’s age and skill level. We like to compare google reviews and comments from active hikers on Alltrails. Be sure to note the gain in elevation, total length of the trail, whether it is a loop or point to point, and how it is rated from easy to hard.

#3 – Bring plenty of water and double the amount of snacks you think you might need! This is a great time to offer fresh fruits like strawberries, grapes, melon, apples, and pears. Children can become dehydrated quickly in the desert, so make sure to bring plenty of water and hydrating snacks to keep them fueled and energized.

#4 – Bring protective clothing and sunscreen. In my opinion, the fight is not worth blowing a hike over when it comes to the clothes children want to hike in. Jeans, a sundress, superman costume, anything they are willing and comfortable in, is acceptable! Make sure you add hats, long sleeve and light-weight shirts, and sunscreen to your pack before leaving the house.

This adjustable, pony-tail, sun hat has been on some epic adventures with me and still looks great! If you enjoy your hikes with some extra stabilization, these collapsible poles are a must have.

#5 – Keep an eye on the weather: Check the weather forecast before heading out and avoid hiking during extreme heat or storms. If you’re hiking in the Arizona desert, be aware of flash floods and monsoon or haboob warnings that can make being outside intensely dangerous.

#6 – Watch for wildlife: Teach children to be aware of the wildlife in the area and keep a safe distance from any animals they encounter. Rattlesnakes are common in the Arizona wilderness during the winter months.

#7 – Take lots of breaks: Plan frequent breaks to rest and hydrate, especially during hot weather. Having a variety of snacks can make each stop exciting. Talk about how far you’ll go on the next time before you stop again and gamify how you’ll finish the hike to keep the children interested in the journey.

#8 – Stay on designated trails: Stick to established trails to avoid damaging the fragile desert ecosystem and to reduce the risk of getting lost.

#9 – Make short, visual goals. While hiking with children, it can be very effective to set a visual goal with an action associated with reaching it. Dance parties, snacks, and any motivating factor you can dig up for your children are valuable tools to keep them engaged on the trail and can be used as celebration when you reach the visual goal. We like to play Eye-Spy and other guessing games to stay connected in conversation throughout the journey.

#10 – Finally, remember to have fun! Hiking in the Arizona desert can be a wonderful adventure for children, with plenty of opportunities to explore and learn about the natural world. Scavenger hunts are an exciting way to play along the hike and can be just what’s needed for that last boost of energy to get to the top. If you have room in your pack, throw these in there for a fun game on the trail!

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